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Build a Better Pizza

Keep your eye on a healthier pie
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Ask any child for a list of his or her favorite foods and I'll bet a pile of pepperoni that, nine times out of 10, pizza makes the cut. This doesn't appear to be something we outgrow, either: In the Allrecipes.com 2002 Comfort Foods Poll, pizza was ranked the sixth most popular food among the more than 40,000 respondents.

But can you eat pizza and still eat healthily? The answer lies in the toppings, and the more Italian the pizza, the better.

As long as it's authentically Italian pizza, with a thin and bready (not greasy) crust made with a touch of olive oil, the crust isn't bad at all. Top it with lots of pizza sauce made with cooked tomatoes, olive oil and spices, and you're getting a nice dose of antioxidants.

Which brings us to the cheese: Cheese is a good source of protein and has vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals. But it also contributes fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, so don't go overboard. If you are making your pizza at home, use part-skim mozzarella and reduced-fat sharp cheddar to cut the fat and cholesterol almost in half.

A recent Italian study reported that pizza showed the most cancer-prevention promise of the many Italian foods tested. People who ate a slice or more per week had 59% less risk of esophageal cancer, 34% less risk of oral-cavity and pharyngeal cancer, and 25% less risk of colon cancer than others. Researcher Silvano Gallus, PhD, says he believes there is a protective compound in cooked tomatoes that may partly explain this effect.

Here are pizza ingredients with anticancer potential, according to recent research:

  • Tomato products. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant also found in pink grapefruit and watermelon. Studies show it may help protect against breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer. When looking for lycopene, there are two rules to follow: cooked or processed tomato foods actually contain more than raw tomatoes, and a little fat (like olive oil) makes it more available to body tissues.
  • Olives and olive oil. Olives contain the antioxidant hydroxytyrosol. They're also considered a flavonoid-rich food, and people who eat such foods are less likely to develop various types of cancer.
  • Onions and garlic. Both contain anti-carcinogenic compounds called organosulfer compounds. Men in China have the world's lowest rate of prostate cancer, and a diet rich in garlic, shallots, and onions may be one reason. Plants in the onion family contain other phytochemicals with antitumor activity.

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